Following its high-end desktop platform launch with the Core X family, Intel is closing the year with the 8th generation Core "Coffee Lake" mainstream processor family. 2017 has been an exciting year in the world of processors with AMD's Ryzen offering becoming an unexpected success, restoring much-needed competition to the CPU market. AMD is able to compete with Intel at nearly every price point, from the $120-ish entry-level all the way up to the $1,000 high-end desktop. This spells trouble for Intel's mainstream-desktop platform, which is one of its main cash cows for high-margin processors, besides the notebook processor market.
The 8th generation Core processor family is based on the new "Coffee Lake" silicon, which is the company's fourth to be built on the 14 nanometer process (after Broadwell, Skylake, and Kaby Lake). It is proof that Intel's "tick-tock" product development cycle is off the rails, and the company can no longer launch a new process every other year. In the face of a reinvigorated AMD, there was only one direction in which Intel could have enhanced its mainstream-desktop processor lineup – core counts.
Increased core counts is the defining feature of the 8th generation Core family. For close to a decade, Intel sold quad-core desktop chips under the Core i7 and Core i5 brands and dual-core ones under the Core i3 brand. The Core i7 and Core i5 brands now consist of six-core chips and the Core i3 brand features quad-core chips. The L3 cache amounts have been proportionately increased. The Core i7 chips include 12 MB of it and have HyperThreading, while the Core i5 chips lack HT and have their L3 cache set to 9 MB. The Core i3 quad-core chips lack HT as well and feature 6 MB of L3 cache.
The "Coffee Lake" micro-architecture does not improve the CPU core design from the two-year old "Skylake" architecture in any tangible way. Over the past two years, Intel has refined its existing 14 nm process at the physical level to increase clock speeds at minimal power and thermal costs. The new "Coffee Lake" silicon is built on the company's very latest 14 nm++ node.
Intel kept its first wave of Core "Coffee Lake" processors rather compact with only two SKUs per brand, one of which is unlocked (K), per brand. In this review, we're testing what is arguably the most interesting SKU in the 8th generation Core family despite it not being a six-core processor, the Core i3-8350K. It may be a quad-core chip that lacks HyperThreading or Turbo Boost and features only 6 MB of L3 cache, but not too long ago, a chip with similar specs was being sold at $260, under the Core i5 brand; today, that chip is available for $180, with an unlocked multiplier, which could make it a budget overclocker's dream.